Written by Anton Svensson — The success of Scandinavian television crime shows like Wallander, The Killing, and The Bridge has emboldened some of the region’s seasoned creators to try their hand in the crime fiction market. An interesting new feature we’re seeing in this trend is the emergence of some strong tag-team showings like Cilla and Rolf Börjlind, Hjorth and Rosenfeldt, and Sander Jakobsen. Now another Swedish writing team has thrown down the gauntlet. This time Wallander screenwriter Stefan Thunberg has joined forces with Glass key-winning crime novelist Anders Roslund, writing under the name Anton Svensson.
Lately Swedish Detective John Broncks’ mind is troubled by two tracks of thought, and they’re both matters of the heart. He yearns for his true love Sanna, the one he let get away. Trouble is she’s the crime unit’s resident forensics expert. The other thing that nags at him has just landed on his desk: the case file of a very bold and very professional bank heist. Something about it sends his gut instinct into overdrive and he asks permission to shelve his 17 other cases and focus on the brazen bank job.
The violent signature of the heist recalls for Broncks a prominent aspect of his own family history, namely, an aggression born of abuse. Indeed, we can see right away that Broncks is spot-on. Most of the narrative, told from the perspective of the heist’s perpetrators, describes their current operations, with alternating flashbacks to the childhood experiences that have molded them. These early impressions include an alcoholic father and a struggling, victimised mother. The band of brothers is out to prove themselves, and not just to the authorities they taunt with every successful heist. Their leader is the eldest brother Leo. Still haunted by his father’s dominance despite years of estrangement, he is determined to make his own mark in the world. The story was inspired by a group of three brothers who robbed banks and evaded capture in Sweden for a decade.
Despite his strong investigative instincts, Broncks is just as clueless when the robbers strike again, armed to the teeth and with military precision. A series of strained conferences with Sanna confirm a pattern of behavior, but no hard facts. As the relentless detective gets closer to the identity of the crooks, he’s given to reflect on his own violent past. A full reconciliation with his own brother, who is doing hard time, is soured by the fact that his rare prison visitation has an ulterior motive. Broncks needs inside information from the criminal underworld to identify the Military League, as the press have dubbed the bank robbers.
Although The Father is a deft police procedural, its real strength is its emotional core. It is a story of sibling loyalty, family cohesion, psychological trauma, and unresolved guilt. The telescopic relay between past and present is a common narrative device, but it is used here effectively to show the enduring thrall the father has over his children despite their rejection of him. The authors’ strong characterisations, based on Roslund’s own experiences, are real enough to anticipate the main characters’ reactions to the increasingly escalating danger they put themselves in. Strong supporting characters include childhood friend Jasper, a fiercely loyal wannabe commando who, like Leo’s wife Anneli, feels closed out of the family.
The real wildcard here though is the unpredictable Leo, who gets increasingly reckless. A scene where he takes the time to punch out a smiley face pattern into a bank window with his assault rifle before fleeing the crime scene is both thrilling and disturbing. As things come to a head with Broncks’ investigation, Leo breaks his pattern and takes more risks. The result is a breathtaking face-off with the police and a deep affecting confrontation with his father and his own inner demons.
The Father is a solid debut that holds its own as an engrossing family drama, but as a stellar heist thriller it infuses the brooding Nordic noir genre with a healthy dose of adrenaline. With the teaming of Scandicrime stalwarts Thunberg and Roslund, the Made in Sweden series looks like the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
For another story about a bank robber and based on real-life events, try Sutton by JR Moehringer.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars